Myanmar has been on our bucket list for ages, and with the elections over peacefully we booked our tickets on AirAsia, got visas on line and put together a kid-friendly itinerary and off we went. We had a fantastic holiday and will write more about the attractions in Myanmar soon. There are some beautiful things to see in Myanmar, we felt very welcome everywhere and traveling with kids was easy, but you also need to remember that it is one of the poorest countries in the world and adjust your expectations accordingly.
It seems like Myanmar is leaping ahead at rocket speed, at least when it comes to services and infrastructure, and a lot of the information online is not accurate anymore – hopefully this post helps others planning to travel to Myanmar:
We applied for Myanmar visas online and got them a few days later. The cost was USD 50 per traveller, also for kids.
US dollars are still the best currency to take, but all major currencies seem to be accepted at money changers. We had crisp US dollars as advised in most guide books, and changed them at one of the many kiosks at the airport. You may be able to get better rate somewhere else but when traveling with kids, convenience beats better rates. We used kyats everywhere we went. Keep small notes handy! Many hotels charge you a service fee if you want to pay with a credit card.
We picked up a SIM card from the airport from one of the many operators offering a “tourist SIM”. The friendly sales staff set up the card and we found both local calls and data worked fine. Wifi in the hotels was often poor, but the mobile data was very decent.
Taxis are available at the airport, no meters are used. We got taxis easily near major points of interest, and found the rates to be pretty standard and didn’t feel the need to bargain. The roads in Yangon really can’t cope with the amount of cars, and the rush hour crawl can be a real pain in the mostly un-airconditioned and often un-seatbelted vehicles.
Food and drink
We were warned both about getting sick easily and the food not being quite as exciting as elsewhere in South East Asia. Both turned to be true. In most other countries in the region we happily feast at markets and stalls, but you should really avoid them when traveling with kids in Myanmar and follow the usual food safety advise for traveling in developing countries. However, there are loads of restaurants of all sorts, so you won’t go hungry.
Travel in Myanmar
With young kids and only a bit more than a week, we didn’t really fancy endless, bumpy and loud train or bus journeys that all seem to start or end in the middle of the night. For a small market Myanmar has a ridiculous amount of tiny airlines flying the same routes several times a day so finding a flight is not an issue. I was quite worried by the safety record of the domestic airlines but realised flying was really the only option for us and did a fair bit of internet research before booking. Many flights are like buses on the sky – they fly on a loop, so when booking look at flight duration and arrival time to make sure you don’t end up doing the loop the wrong way. You can check flight schedules online and buy tickets here. We ended up buying the tickets directly from the airline’s website because the price was a bit cheaper, but found flymya.com a great tool for planning. We did not reconfirm any of our flights, as recommended in many guidebooks – and had no issues.
In addition to Air Asia, you can also fly to Yangon from Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines. Click here to check latest flight promotions by Traveloka, an Indonesian travel agency just entering the Malaysian market.
Traveloka is running a Great Sale promotion with discounted prices on many mid-range hotels in the region until 12th September 2016, with travel time in the next few months. While the selection of hotels is not as vast as the biggies of online booking engines, I spotted a few good deals.
Doing your homework
In addition to planning you itinerary maybe bit more carefully than in some other destinations, it may be a good idea to do a bit of research before going – this may be a good article to start with. Despite the recent developments in the country and the optimism that was so obvious during our recent visit Myanmar’s problems have not vanished overnight. New government doesn’t mean the economy is suddenly corruption free and the cronies still run a lot of the show.
Before the trip we talked to the kids about poverty and development and explained why streets of Yangon look like they have been stuck in a time warp. On the temples of Bagan we encountered kids their age selling trinkets and asking for foreign money as “souvenirs” – time for another chat. We tried to use local, small businesses when possible and made a point of shopping at markets and small corner shops when possible.
Books on Myanmar
Burma’s Spring by Rosalind Russell is a personal account of a journalist covering Myanmar during the last years of military rule in Myanmar. Through Russell’s interviewees you get a glimpse to what it was like to live under the junta, but at the same time her personal/professional struggles as an expat mom make it an easy book to relate to.
The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh is perhaps one of the most famous works of fiction on Burma, and it is indeed a fantastic family saga covering generations and spreading across Southeast Asia.
Burmese Days by George Orwell was a bit slow to start but I persevered and was surprised by how Orwell’s description of colonial times is so brutally honest. Writing from his own experience his characters are realistic, ranging from the obnoxious expats serving their time to those developing a relationships with their temporary home country.
Leap & Hop Myanmar guide was again a real gem. I am sure having this book bought us considerable extra time exploring the temples. More on Leap & Hop guides here.
*Tthis post was written in partnership with Traveloka